In chapter 5 of Joel Green’s Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture, we turn to the issue biblical authority: “What view of authority is assumed in and cultivated by this invitation to read the Bible as Christian Scripture?” (p. 143)
The question of biblical authority is not a simple one. The Church has lacked a uniform understanding of the nature, inspiration, and authority of the Bible. Within some quarters, this gap has been particularly unwelcome given the “high standing” of Scripture espoused and the strong link between pronouncements regarding the nature, inspiration, and authority of the Bible and personal faith.
For Green, three crises are presently operative in Western Church culture that press the issue for us on our own understanding and practice of biblical authority.
1. Crisis of Function. Green points out that for all the importance placed upon statements about and attitudes toward Scripture within conservative evangelicalism (namely, pronouncements about Scripture as being “inerrant,” and “infallible”), these declarations yield little in terms of providing an impetus for ongoing practice regarding how we read and interpret the text for the life of the Church.
What has been said or done or portrayed in the text and what is the ongoing significance of that for Christian faith in the life of the Church?
2. Crisis of Relevance. Everyday people are not as affected by this crisis as are scholarly guild. But for preachers and others who have picked up a commentary or other reference work, there has been a notable lack of connection between the scholar’s study
3. Crisis of Authority. So many revolt at the idea of something having authority “over them.” But what does that mean for our practice.
In the misdt of this three-fold crisis, Green speaks of four ways of thinking about biblical authority:
1. The Intrinsic Authority of the Bible. While extrinsic authority is accepted “not because the statement itself is compelling but because we grant the speaker the authoritative status necessary to make that statement” (p. 163), intrinsic authority holds that “the statement itself is convincing or compelling, irrespective of who said it.”
2. The Authority of the Biblical Narrative. “Narrative…is an exercise in influence. Hence, the first questions narrative invites are no about historical veracity (“Did this really happen this way?), but about signification (“What does this mean?”) and invitation (“What does this call me to be and do?”). This is not to say that these narratives are lacking in historical referents; it is to say that the interpretive task is not satisfied by questions of historicity, but rather by questions of meaning, aim, purpose, signification” (p. 168).
3. Biblical Authority as Invitation. “The authority of Scripture is less demand and more invitation to come and live this story… to accept it not as one narrative among others, but to accord it a privilege above all others, and to allow ourselves to be shaped by it ultimately” (p. 171).
4. Biblical Authority as Grace. “Precisely because Scripture is first and foremost about God, it draws its chief character from God. How, then, could the authority of Scripture be anything but a gracious gift, an expression of divine care?” (p. 171)